Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ocean Monitoring and Conservation Using Cabled Observatory Technology

The following is a guest post from Nam Siu, a marine biologist and Marine Science Center Oceanography on the Dock educator. 

Today through Friday, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is seeking to meet a $1000 match challenge from two generous donors. Donate today and every dollar you give will go twice as far toward sparking curiosity and inspiring stewardship of the Salish Sea. With your help, we will meet our goal of raising $15,000 to double our impact next year and inspire more people like Nam to become passionate stewards of our marine environment.

Nautilus in Victoria

In August 2015, I returned aboard the E/V Nautilus as a data manager. The ship had just transited from San Francisco to Victoria to pick up crew and equipment in preparation for the last cruise of the expedition season. This last cruise was rather unique as Dr. Robert Ballard's Ocean Exploration Trust, the non-profit that operates the E/V Nautilus, was collaborating with Ocean Networks Canada to perform maintenance on their underwater observatory as well as various scientific missions.

Nam and his colleague, Katie, on deck
Nam with Dr. Robert Ballard

Ocean Networks Canada operates and maintains both the Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea (VENUS) and North-East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments (NEPTUNE) observatories providing real-time in situ data from various scientific instrument platforms through the Salish Sea (VENUS) and Northeast Pacific (NEPTUNE). The scientific instrument platforms on these ocean observatories monitor everything from hydro-acoustics for marine mammal and shipping traffic research, to bottom pressure sensors as a part of the earthquake and tsunami early warning system, to HD cameras recording the succession of hydrothermal vent tubeworm communities, and much more.

Onboard observation room
Nam and a small octopus

It was a real privilege to work on both the VENUS and NEPTUNE observatories in our own backyard of the Salish Sea and Northeast Pacific. Moreover, for someone like me, who regularly SCUBA dives in this area and is usually restricted to the shallow water environment down to a maximum 30 m of depth, it was absolutely amazing to explore the deepest parts of the ocean here. For instance, the deepest site on this cruise, the “Endeavor Hydrothermal Vent Field” was at a depth of approximately 2,300 meters! This is a good time to clarify that no, I was not SCUBA diving on this research cruise and no, I did not go down in a submersible. The E/V Nautilus hosts two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Hercules and Argus, that we remotely operate from the comfort of the control room on the ship. It was with these two ROVs, especially Hercules, which was the business end of the system with manipulator arms that we used to perform maintenance of instrument platforms and surveys on the seafloor.

Hercules front view
Hercules in the vent field

The highlight of the cruise for me was when we finally transited 400 km offshore to dive on the Endeavor Hydrothermal Vent Field at the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plate spreading ridge. This was the deepest site at 2,300 m below the surface of the Northeastern Pacific. Here we found gigantic hydrothermal vents, black smoker chimneys, and spires that rose up to 30 m above the sea floor.

The spreading ridge
Smoke and mirrors

As a marine biologist, the most interesting thing to me, besides the giant hydrothermal vent spires, were the vast tubeworm communities hosting a diverse array of chemosynthetically dependent organisms.


The data collected by Ocean Network Canada is available to the public and anyone can go to to make an account and start viewing the data and video streams. Moreover, videos and pictures from this expedition and previous ones can be seen on

NAM SIU is a Marine Biologist and Project Manager at Marine Surveys & Assessments where he conducts scientific SCUBA surveys throughout the Salish Sea and assesses the environmental impact of various marine related projects. Occasionally Nam goes to sea with Dr Robert Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus to explore hydrothermal vents and the deepest parts of the ocean with remotely operated unmanned submersibles. Nam has an M.Sc. in biology with oceanography emphasis, as well as a dual B.Sc. in Marine Science and Biology. He is a district one representative on the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee serving on several subcommittees dedicated to protecting and restoring the marine resources of Jefferson County. Nam also works part-time at the Jefferson Community School as a marine science educator and dive master for their overseas diving expeditions. Above all, Nam volunteers at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center mostly helping out with the citizen science program Oceanography on the Dock.

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  1. Awesome Nam! Glad to hear your great work continues!

  2. What amazing images! Congratulations, Nam, on your exciting research!


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